For my Aurikesh campaign setting, I scrapped the core 5e races and wrote new racial abilities. I am pretty much fine with 5e's rules for elves, dwarves, halflings, and the less common races, but they weren't what I wanted for Aurikesh. As I've mentioned before, I really don't like the rules for humans, because "the most generic ones" is an approach that gaming can't seem to escape. The other point of this is to experiment with unusual racial abilities and re-level the playing field as to how many distinct abilities each race gets.
Instead of subraces, as such, I've given each race a culture-specific ability. In Aurikesh, these are on a scale comparable to "European" or "colonial." Sestomera is the Old Country for humans and kagandi, while Erenn Kemesa (demonym, Kemeshi) is the same for beruch. Balioth is the location of the game's action, and colonies inhabited by all four races. The veytikka have lived on Balioth for ages, as well as more of them coming from Sestomera, but one particular area has a separate cultural identity due to long separation from the surface-dwellers.
The partially crystalline beruch have arrived from an island reportedly far to the west. Their red skin, stark white hair, and strange silicate growths are off-putting to humans meeting them for the first time, but the beruch have engaged those they meet with energetic interest. They casually deflect inquiry about their own homelands, while asking as many questions as they can of the people they encounter. Ships crewed by beruch entered almost every port on this side of the continent within the same week.
Beruch skin color is predominantly some shade of dark red, though some few have glossy black skin. They are, on average, a few inches shorter than humans. At the knees, elbows, and backs of their hands, they have silicate growths (typically clear or cloudy) that emerge from the skin. Two thin ridges of the same crystals begin at the hairline, run over the scalp, and end at the nape of the neck. Their hair is white, though both sexes typically shave their heads. Men grow beards in a variety of styles. Their crystalline growths, which begin at childhood and continue to grow for the next thirty years, are the source of their more unusual abilities. Magic is deeply written into the nature of the beruch, and they have the ability to absorb or redirect much of its power. They are more noted for their capacity to endure it than they are for having any greater command over it than any other mortal race.
The beruch lived in isolation on the island of Erenn Kemesa since time out of mind, a largely peace-loving people who satisfied their curiosity about the outside world with powerful divinations, cast through the Eye of Ychirra to give them to power they needed. A cabal of wizards and priests, the Ring of the Luminous, was responsible for casting and guiding those divinations. They held an exalted position within beruch society, and competition was ever fierce to join their ranks. The college of arcane magic and the temple hierarchies set out clear ways in which their members could seek such promotion. In time, the members of that cabal were consumed by their hubris, quietly turning their divinatory gaze on one another. They each sought to make the Ring of the Luminous and the Eye of Ychirra a tool to their own ends. To accomplish this, each sought to manipulate the arcane college and the priesthood to promote only those who shared their aims, or who they believed they could easily control.
Conflict continued in this manner for over five hundred years, with four factions within the Ring of the Luminous pursuing dominance. Ultimately it presented history's strangest and most subtle civil war, in which all sides knew their opponents' plans whenever they were communicated; the Eye of Ychirra could see any missive, hear any spoken conversation, and watch plans as they were put into motion. Each move was countered even as it was invented; each counter was outwitted, and every outwitting turned back on itself. The futility of the conflict finally ended it, as one of the four factions was reduced to a single man, Annask Tioral. Working alone and telling no one of his plans, they spared little thought for him, until finally he approached the Eye of Ychirra directly. Striking it over and over again with a spear made from adamantine, he cracked the surface of the Eye, breaking its power. It is not known whether he survived the experience.
Bloody warfare began in earnest thereafter, and all but the most powerful of the beruch fled Erenn Kemesa for the lands of the east that they had seen before only by magic. Some of the beruch now seek a new homeland; others seek the means to return home and restore or seize Erenn Kemesa from those who remain there.
Revised Beruch Rules
Average Height: 5'0-5'8
Average Weight: 130-190 lb
Ability Score Increase: +2 Con, and +1 Wis OR (+1 Int for Kemeshi culture, +1 Str for Baliothan culture)
Age: Beruch have the same lifespan expectations as humans, though it is culturally common for beruch to prolong their lifespans by magic.
Speed: 30 ft
Silicate Growths: The crystalline growths jutting from your skin grant you +1 AC.
Absorb Magic: When you suffer spell damage that deals cold, lightning, fire, force, psychic, radiant, or necrotic damage, you can spend your reaction to reduce this damage by 1d8. This value increases at 5th level (2d8), 11th level (3d8), and 17th level (4d8).
Kemeshi Cultural Benefit: Familiarity with Magic: You have advantage on all rolls to recall magical lore. Choose one cantrip from the spell list of any class; you know this spell and may cast it once per short or long rest. Your ability score for this cantrip is the best of your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma scores.
Baliothan Cultural Benefit: You have resistance to psychic damage.
Languages: Kemeshi (Beruch) and Sestomeran (Common)
Humans of Aurikesh
The humans now controlling Balioth came here from the southern continent of Sestomera, about two hundred years ago, along with the kagandi. I don't exactly know what human culture as a whole is like, but I want it to continue to support both late knighthood and early musketeers. Humans did not necessarily have starlocks when they came to Balioth - those might be a recent invention. Monarchy, theocracy, and dictatorship are the only government types I've really imagined for the domains of Balioth, but I could be talked into some other form.
Humans live alongside the kagandi in relative harmony. Humans living in areas ruled by a kagandi noble do not chafe under that rule for any reason of race, though they might dislike their lord for any number of other reasons. This is likewise true for kagandi living in areas ruled by human nobles.
Humans and kagandi show rather more disdain for veytikka, but they still show them more acceptance than one might expect of a ghoul-like people.
Revised Human Rules
Ability Score Increase: Two different ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Age: Humans reach adulthood in their late teens and tend to live less than a century.
Speed: 30 ft
Baliothan Cultural Benefit: You have proficiency with the starlock pistol, starlock musket, and starlock long rifle. Once per long rest, when you attack an enemy who has not yet taken an action, you gain +1d4 to the attack roll and the damage roll.
Sestomeran Cultural Benefit: You gain proficiency with any one set of artisan's tools. Your crafting progresses at double the normal rate (100 silver per day). When you use the training action, you can learn to use a new tool in half the normal amount of time, though the cost of the lesson usually remains the same.
Clarity of Purpose: Once per short rest or long rest, you can reroll a failed saving throw that targets Wisdom.
Ready for Action: You have advantage on all Dexterity checks for initiative.
Languages: Sestomeran, choice of one other
The kagandi are a widespread race, equal in number to humans. On average they are slightly larger than humans. Kagandi skin is more leathery than human skin, and ranges in color from jet black to mahogany brown to emerald green; these colors also sometimes show up as streaks of color in other skin tones. The majority of kagandi live within two days' travel of the ocean or other large bodies of water.
Kagandi physiology requires certain nutrients found in fish, and they begin to suffer significant malnutrition after two weeks without it. They discovered, however, an alchemical process that duplicates this nutrient, allowing them to move farther inland. Kagandi alchemy is years ahead of human alchemical guilds, such that many humans apply to study within kagandi guilds. Most are turned away, but a few are admitted after they swear binding oaths of secrecy.
In addition, kagandi have an idiosyncratic reaction to ulishau root poison. Ulishau root grows in the Fens of Vashtal's Gift, but the poison is exported to kagandi communities everywhere. While they suffer from the poison, kagandi gain sorcerous power; they claim that this is in fact a bargain that the first of their people made with the god Vashtal in the dawning of creation.
Kagandi first encountered humans over two thousand years ago, as kagandi explorers landed on the shores of the human homelands in the east. Early conflicts gave way to an extended period of peace, shattered almost seven hundred years ago in the War of Fallen Towers, as a faction of kagandi ship captains, guildmasters, and other people of note organized attacks on the human settlers that they saw as intruding into their domains. This war eventually engulfed almost all human and kagandi nations (and resulted in a massive population boom among the veytikka). Humans and kagandi alike were ruined by years of warfare; large areas of human-settled land were ruled by kagandi, and vice versa. Instead of reverting these lands to their previous owners, they stayed in their current hands, and the races began to live together; uncomfortably at first, but no one really wants to go back to war, and they have found ways to profit from one another.
Kagandi and humans tend to separate themselves by neighborhood. In port cities, as much as 75% of the population may be kagandi, whereas cities far inland may have only a single family. While some groups of kagandi and humans try to stir their fellows up against the other race, most people are more concerned with the world's actual dangers and, more recently, the mysterious beruch who have arrived on their strange ships.
Revised Kagandi Rules
Ability Score Increase: +2 Dexterity, and +1 Int OR +1 Cha
Average Height: 5'10"-6'6"
Average Weight: 200-260 lb.
Age: Kagandi reach adulthood in their early twenties, and tend to live about a century.
Speed: 30 ft
Baliothan Cultural Benefit: You gain proficiency with alchemist's supplies and herbalism kits. Once per short rest or long rest, you may increase the dice values of one alchemical item by one die size at the time of use.
Sestomeran Cultural Benefit: You gain proficiency with poisoner's kits. You may apply basic poison as a bonus action.
Low-light vision: You can see in dim light within 60 feet as if it were bright light.
Resistance to Poison: You have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you gain resistance to poison damage.
Sorcery of the Fen: When you take ulishau root poison and voluntarily fail your saving throw, you gain sorcerous spellcasting abilities. At first level, you gain one use of a cantrip per short rest. At 3rd level, you gain one first-level spell slot. At 5th level, you gain a second-level spell slot. At 7th level, you gain a third-level spell slot. The first time you use ulishau root poison, choose one cantrip and one sorcerer spell of each spell level. (Respend these choices according to your campaign's respend mechanics.) If you are a sorcerer, you instead gain 2 sorcery points.
Languages: Sestomeran, choice of one other
Veytikka are a humanoid race barely tolerated by their neighbors, but living among them as vagrants. They are carrion-eaters by preference, and will consume the flesh of any being that is not a veytikka, as long as it has had a few days to decay. Once they do begin to eat, they leave almost no trace behind, aside from stains that have soaked into surfaces. To avoid drawing the ire of other races, they are much more circumspect about their eating habits while in cities. The main reason they are permitted to stay in the cities of other races is that they have the useful ability to perceive across the veil of death, and even communicate for short periods of time. Among their own kind, they speak a language they call Veyti; they also use this language when communicating with the dead.
Their skin tones range from a pure white to slate gray. Their faces are distinctly inhuman, with slightly elongated snouts, pointed ears, and black tongues. Eye colors include brown, green, and red. Veytikka have long, retractable claws, but just as often use weapons they have found or made. They are highly resistant to all forms of disease - necessary, given their diet. When their hands are empty and they are not significantly encumbered, they can move on all fours for increased speed.
In their interactions with others, veytikka are friendly, but possess an intensity that others find unsettling. They avoid showing their anger openly, but hold it tightly inside. Revenge, like dinner, is a dish best served only when it has fully ripened. Many are surprised to discover that a veytikka's home is almost indistinguishable from the home of a human of the same level of wealth, though most veytikka live in some measure of poverty.
Humans, kagandi, and veytikka lived together on Sestomera to relative harmony since time immemorial. When they discovered Balioth, only a small number of veytikka joined in, until the explorers found small tribes of veytikka in Balioth as well, speaking flawless Veyti. There are many unanswered questions about these northern veytikka, but they have welcomed their southern kindred as well as the humans and kagandi. The northern veytikka have unique names for each domain, though they do not explain what the names mean or how they came to be. Many of the southern veytikka have taken up this practice as well.
Revised Veytikka Rules
Ability Score Increase: Divide three ability score points between Charisma, Dexterity, and Constitution. None of these may increase by more than two points.
Average Height: 5’7”-6’5”
Average Weight: 150-210 lb.
Age: Veytikka age at the same rate as humans.
Size: Medium. The average veytikka is four inches taller than the average human.
Speed: 30 feet. When your hands are empty, you are wearing Light or no armor, and you are not encumbered, you can increase your speed to 40 feet by moving on all fours.
Claws: Your claws deal 1d4 damage, and damage dealt with your claws ignores the damage resistance of incorporeal creatures.
Keen Smell: You have advantage on checks made to perceive something by smell. You can track by scent.
Resistance to Disease: You have advantage on all saving throws to resist contracting a disease, including magical diseases. Veytikka require meat in their diets, but they can subsist on meat that others would regard as spoiled.
Baliothan/Sestomeran Cultural Benefit: Lore of the Dead: You can slip into a trance to communicate with unmanifested ghosts, who are often inclined to lend you their aid. This aid usually takes the form of advantage on skill checks relating to the area, or to topics of their particular interest.
Moriscethi Cultural Benefit: Lore of the Dark: The things that live in the deep places of the earth whisper to you when you are in their domain. When you are underground, gain advantage on Intelligence ability checks.
Languages: Sestomeran, Veyti
Twenty years ago, the mage-priest Parthala learned of a forthcoming demonic invasion that, if not halted in its earliest stages, would result in the ruin of an entire continent. She needed a small army in short order, but over the course of three months could find only four hundred volunteers to what seemed like a suicide mission. Desperate now to transform them into a capable fighting force, she performed a ritual that she had found in the most ancient and secret depths of the archives of the Talendi church. Church records hinted that this ritual had been performed at least once before, but even the names of the lands in which it was performed were unfamiliar.
In a single and costly ceremony, Parthala's four hundred volunteers were transformed and empowered for battle. Talend and Vashtal together stripped Parthala of her power for a year and a day as a rebuke for her presumption, but they too wished to see the demonic invasion prevented, and they permitted the ritual to succeed. Those transformed by the ritual, who have come to be called the Parthé, can gain unbelievable physical prowess for short periods of time, though the energies that fuel this state take a toll on them. The Parthé included humans, kagandi, and even a few veytikka (the beruch not yet having left Erenn Kemesa). The ritual left an outward sign of its power upon them: veins of copper cover their skin, concentrated especially around the eyes and over the heart. They otherwise remain recognizable members of their original race.
In the end, Parthala's Kindred turned aside the demonic invasion, though only sixty-eight of them survived. In the time since then, they have learned that the ritual's power descends through family lines, whenever two Parthé produce a child. A Parthé who produces offspring with a non-Parthé of their original race creates a Parthé as their firstborn, while all later children will be normal.
Though there have been some who have since condemned the Parthé as dangerous abominations, reactions to them are largely positive; the survivors were heroes even before joining Parthala, and many hailed them as saviors afterward. Parthic veytikka in particular have found that they are more readily accepted than their unchanged kin.
Parthé Racial Template
The Parthic racial template may be applied to a beruch, human, kagandi, or veytikka from birth.
Ability Score Increase: Parthé can exchange up to two points of their base racial ability score increase for two points of Strength. This may not exceed a total Strength bonus from race of +2.
Age: Parthé PCs belong to the second generation of the race, and thus may not be more than twenty years old at start of play. Children and adolescents are not generally suitable for play, so Parthé will generally be between the ages of 15 and 20. Parthé reach maturity slightly faster than humans. The upper limits of their lifespans are not yet known.
Size and Speed are unchanged from their base race.
Parthé lose their base race's cultural benefit and replace it with the ability to cast enlarge (but not reduce) on themselves or other Parthé, without material components, once per long rest at 1st level. When cast upon themselves, their Concentration for this effect cannot be disrupted from damage. At 5th level, they may use this ability twice per long rest. At 11th level, they may use this ability three times per long rest.
Parthé otherwise retain the rest of their race's abilities.